WAEL SHAWKY: Cabaret Crusades

Film has been a participatory medium at the documenta since its beginning in 1955. As contemporary art enthusiasts and gallery-visitors we are likely to be accustomed to pausing only a few minutes for films. With so much art to see, it is difficult to justify the 20 minutes or more of some films. This is not the case for the 31.49 minutes of Wael Shawky’Cabaret Crusades. Located in the basement of the Neue Galerie, this work is a must-see and is unlikely to put up a fight with a viewer’s attention span. Shawky’s work is a historical chronicle of the medieval Crusades and based on the 1983 book The Crusades through Arab Eyes by Lebanese author Amin Maalouf. 200-year-old marionettes act out the plot. Accompanied by brief and direct dialogue, it is the truly emotive faces of the bouncing puppets that provide animation for the film. The narrative is set against stunning sets, which paired with the expressive puppets create an aesthetically irresistible experience. Shawky is known for his work that involves dissection and reenactment of historic moments through child actors, puppets, and digital animation to remove esoteric lenses and interact directly with history.


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